3D Systems 3D Printing With Conductive Ink For Project Ara Antennas

3D Systems is as enmeshed with Google’s Project Ara team as possible; there’s even a 3D Systems employee camping out with the team and developing 3D printing technology for the project right there in-house, and some of the fruit of that labor is the news that 3D Systems is experimenting with printing using conductive ink.

That would enable the team to print items such as antennas, which is something the Project Ara team is doing in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University and X5 Systems.

X5 Systems antennas for Project Ara
X5 Systems Project Ara antenna prototypes

X5 Systems has intriguing technology called AntSyn (short for “antenna synthesis”) that uses AI software to automatically design an antenna based on parameters the user inputs which then physically creates an antenna with the correct patterns, frequency characteristics, and so on. You can also run simulation tests on the antenna designs, which can provide valuable feedback.

Google Project Ara modules

X5 Systems and 3D Systems can work hand in hand to develop a way to marry the ability to automatically generate antenna designs with the ability to print those designs using conductive ink embedded in a Project Ara module, or the Project Ara endo itself.

3D Systems is also developing a “continuous, high-speed 3D printing production platform and fulfillment system to accommodate production-level speeds and volume”, as opposed to the old “reciprocating” method that takes much longer due to frequent slowdowns (or speed-ups).

Project Ara 3d-printed modules

The company is also working on increasing material strength--which is a good thing, because the Project Ara shell prototypes feel a bit delicate--and also the ability to print in full CMYKWT color.

Project Ara 3d-printed shells

Project Ara should become a reality someday (Google thinks that day will be sometime this January), but even if turns out to be vaporware, the project is pushing innovation for 3D printing, and that’s not a bad thing.